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Air Quality Issues Impacting Midstream Operations

John R. Jacus, Julia Jones, Christopher L. Rimkus, Midstream Oil & Gas from the Upstream Perspective

EPA has begun to focus more intently on emissions from oil and gas gathering and gas processing operations in recent years, raising legal and practical concerns for operators. EPA has also been aggressively using its Clean Air Act 114 information gathering authority in the review of gathering and processing facilities for their compliance with existing Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) and other air quality compliance requirements. More recent enforcement efforts aimed at the midstream sector have included a focus on pipeline pigging emissions, possible aggregation of pigging emissions, and the asserted applicability of chemical manufacturing standards of performance to gas processing plants more broadly. Some midstream operators are also finding EPA insistent upon the use of low-emitting valve technology in their settlement negotiations, and are being directed by EPA to engage in “drill and tap” repair of leaking valves in active natural gas service, despite concerns about the safety of such repairs. Finally, the issues of source determination for midstream facilities and potential new source review (NSR) circumvention as it relates to the expansion of gathering infrastructure once reserves are proved and leased acreage is nominated in gathering and processing agreements are examined. These issues are addressed following some basic Clean Air Act orientation for readers and attendees of the program with little or no air quality experience, immediately below. I. CAA Basics: NAAQS, SIPs, Pre-Construction Permitting, NSPS, NESHAPs and More The modern Clean Air Act is codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 7401 to 7671q (CAA or the Act). The strategies included in today's Clean Air Act find their origins (for the most part) in the 1970 Clean Air Act, Pub. L. 91-604. This statute was a part of the revolution in American environmental law that began with the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and included the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), and others major statutes.